A second-place finish in this month's Formula SAE West car competition was worth nearly a year of hard work for Tanner Rinke and his Jayhawk Motorsports teammates - even the times they stayed up for two consecutive nights to meet their self-imposed deadlines.
Jayhawk Motorsports, a group of Kansas University mechanical engineering students, earned its highest finish ever at a Society of Automotive Engineers formula-style car event June 13-16. The competition, at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., attracted 80 teams from across the United States and overseas.
This year's team had been at work designing, building and testing its car since last summer.
"Everything we've done throughout the year gets crammed into four days," said Rinke, the team's captain.
The team started designing the car in August, and construction began during winter break. By April 1, the car was complete, in time for six weeks of testing before the Detroit Formula SAE competition in mid-May.
They finished 10th out of 130 teams in Detroit. The 2006 team finished fourth at the Detroit competition and 14th in California.
The SAE competitions include eight events. The three nonmoving events were cost report, car design and sales presentation. Once the cars got moving, they were judged on acceleration, endurance, fuel economy and a short autocross race.
The car, which accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in four seconds, cost about $60,000 to build, with funding from the KU School of Engineering and outside sponsors.
Rinke graduated in May, along with his 23 classmates in the capstone-level mechanical engineering course that designs a new formula-style car each year. Underclassmen looking for experience before they take the course also volunteer to help.
Rinke said the most important element of the car-building process was the teamwork required. He said the team did its best work when all the members gathered to spend a pizza-fueled night - sometimes two nights in a row - staying up and working to meet deadlines Rinke set to keep them on track.
"Once everybody saw each other working, it just flowed from there," he said.
Faculty adviser Robert Sorem, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said students would go on to work in many areas of engineering, but they all would use the teamwork skills they built while working on the car.
"The same things they'll see in an industry project, they see in this one," Sorem said.
Rinke will go to Florida in the fall to work for Disney, designing theme park attractions with the company's Imagineers team.
But for now, he and other Jayhawk Motorsports members are already offering guidance to the leaders of next year's team. He said alumni of the program frequently return to offer help.
"We're certainly all in touch because we don't want to lose the program," he said.